I took one last breath of the Phoenix sunshine, trying to imprint the scents into the recesses of my brain where they would never fade. This gesture was my last goodbye to the home I was leaving behind. I held my mother’s hand as we walked into the airport. It was not for my comfort, but hers.
Ours was not a typical mother-daughter relationship. I had always been precocious, much more intelligent and mature than my age would lead one to expect. Renee, on the other hand, was still a child at heart even though she was closer to 40 than 30 these days. She’d managed to provide for us both until I was old enough to know what I was doing. At that point, I had taken over the duty of raising myself and assumed responsibility for my mom at the same time. It was I that had cooked, cleaned, and done the laundry, and I all but coached my mom when it came to making appointments and filing paperwork. I never resented her for forcing me to grow up too fast, it just wasn’t in me. My mom was who she was, and I wouldn’t trade her for the most blissfully responsibility-free childhood possible.
But it was time for us to part ways. She had gotten remarried, to an athletic man almost ten years her junior. I approved of Phil; he shared my mother’s zest for life, but was very steady and dependable. They would be very happy together, and Renee no longer needed me to look after her. With a new most important person in her life, and accounting for the fact Phil would have to travel a lot to find work, I figured the time was right for me to leave Renee and check up on Charlie.
“Bella, sweetie, you don’t have to do this,” my mom told me, trying to offer me an ‘out’. Deep down, she did want me out of the way, so she could fully enjoy the honeymoon phase with Phil, but she felt guilty about that. She already thought she had failed as a mother, she didn’t want another black mark on her record. Plus, she couldn’t imagine a world where any daughter of hers would willingly move to Forks, Washington, unless under extreme duress.
I knew how she felt the same way I knew how Phil had felt when he’d waved goodbye to me from the car as he dropped us off, and the security guard standing bored at his post in front of us, and the cashier at the kiosk to our right. It was a talent of mine, knowing things about people just by looking at them. I also had a talent to change things about people, but I almost never practiced it because it was rude. In fact, I had a lot of talents, skills that weren’t exactly normal but very useful. It was part of who I was, what I was. I tried to keep it hidden most of the time, but that didn’t mean I didn’t take advantage of it now and then.
I turned to face my mom, letting go of her hand to grab her shoulders. We were of a height, and my brown eyes locked with her clear blue. “Mom. I love you. I’ve loved growing up with you. But I’m not going to be a kid much longer. I want to go live with Charlie, and get to spend time with my dad while I’m still young enough for it to count. Besides, a change of scenery will do me good. It’ll be nice to stop slathering myself in SPF 100 just to go get the mail!”
With a smile, I leaned in and hugged her tight. She wrapped her arms around me too, the embrace somehow both a little girl clinging to her favorite toy and a parent cradling their child. Renee might not have been very good at taking care of me or herself, but she’d always loved me with all her heart. I soaked in the warmth of holding and being held, and then I let her go.
“Go have an adventure with Phil. I’ll be busy with high school and teaching the chief how to live with a teenager. I’ll be sure to call and tell you about all those exciting rainy days locked in my room reading. I’ll tell Bigfoot you’re off the market as well. He’ll be devastated, I’m sure.”
My mom laughed, and made no move to hide the tears starting to fall. That’s one of the things I admired about her, she was so honest with her emotions. “Be safe, baby. Don’t give Charlie any heart attacks. As soon as you get sick of rain and snow, just say the word and I’ll come rescue you.”
I nodded, noting with satisfaction that her aura was much more settled. “Goodbye, Mom.”
With that, I turned and left.
Security was a breeze, and I had been sufficiently delayed by Renee’s dilly-dallying that the wait until my flight was called was negligible. I settled into the middle seat between an Hispanic woman talking across the aisle with her sister and a businessman who’d already shut the window to reduce the glare on his laptop. I settled in to wait, pulling out a dog-eared copy of Macbeth to pass the time. I was mostly a fan of romances, from the tragic to the light-hearted, but it and The Crucible were favorites of mine. It was part comedy at the misrepresentation of witches, and part cautionary tale at the influence they could have on others’ lives.
That was the source of my ‘talents’, by the way. I was a witch. I hadn’t sold my soul or anything to get my powers, I’d just been born with them. It was more common than you would think. I wasn’t even the only kid in my neighborhood who’d been able to see fairies and ghosts, or hover a few inches off the ground. But the capacity for magic meant nothing if one didn’t believe in it. Over time, the others had become convinced they had just imagined it, and lost their talents. Everyone knew there was no such thing as magic, right? The cynicism and denial of the modern world had bled into them like it had their parents and friends, and the spark of the extraordinary within them had died out.
Not for me, though. Renee had never bothered trying to convince me what was real and what wasn’t, simply telling me to follow my heart and make up my own mind and to hell with anyone that told me different. Between her openness to the strange and mystical, and a steady diet of fantasy novels, I had never stopped believing. I had the good sense not to flaunt it, though, not wanting to be known as the weird girl. And I’d been too chicken to try and convince my fellow gifted as we’d grown older and they started to laugh about younger kids playing pretend how it WASN’T pretend.
That had been my first test, I’d discovered later. Those without the fortitude to keep faith lost their powers. Those without the restraint or sense to hide it, making spectacles and drawing the wrong kind of attention, had them taken away. If you lasted until you were ten, then you got a teacher.
Mine was named Katie. That wasn’t her real name, but it’s what she insisted I call her. She was nice, if a bit full of herself. I’d probably be seeing her tonight. She’d been very excited about my move to Washington, and had refused to reveal why until I was already there. Maybe it had something to do with the Quileute tribe. I always knew there was something special about them. Now that I was trained up instead of a clueless kid, I might be able to recognize it without her having to tell me.
The plane landed after four hours. As I wandered through SeaTac, looking for the gate for my connection to the Olympic Peninsula, I tasted the energy of the air. I had definitely ‘crossed enemy lines’, as Sourplum would say. He was the gnome who supervised our house’s garden. He’d been less than pleased about my upcoming change of address. I hadn’t been foolish enough to get tangled in Sidhe politics and having to declare myself. Still, as a Seelie, a member of the Summer Court, he had an instinctive distaste for the entire Pacific Northwest, which was unquestionably Unseelie or Winter territory. I anticipated some culture shock. Any Fae I ran into would be nothing like those I was familiar with.
It was cramped and loud on the puddle-jumper that took me to Port Angeles, and I was almost running to be the first off. I used to avoid high speed movements of any kind, not wanting to exacerbate my clumsiness. It was almost terminal; really, I should come with a doctor’s note. Then Katie had taught me how to enchant my shoes and socks; now I moved smooth as a dancer or model unless I was barefoot.
It wasn’t hard to spot my dad, Charlie Swan. For one thing, he was wearing his police uniform. He greeted me with a hug and a kiss to my hair. I regretted that I hadn’t spent much time alone with him. I used to spend two weeks with him each summer. But I saw how unhappy it made Renee to be alone so long, so I convinced them when I was 11 we should take ‘family vacations’ each summer instead. I knew this wasn’t an option for most children of divorce, but Renee and Charlie had never been spiteful towards each other. They’d been two stupid kids in love, rushing into marriage and parenthood before they were ready. They would have split over one thing or another eventually, Renee’s intolerance for the weather and size of Forks hardly their only issue. My dad had resented Renee at first for taking me with her when she split, but he’d had enough on his plate, taking care of his aging parents. It had been one of their biggest arguing points, Charlie determined to stay in dreary Forks to care for his family while Renee wanted to be anywhere else. He hadn’t been in the best place, after they died within a year of each other. Now he was grateful that she’d spared me from seeing him like that. It was funny how things worked out like that.
It occurred to me, not for the first time, that understanding my parents’ emotions and worries when even they didn’t half the time made it hard for me to see them as authority figures and not people.
“Hey, Bells. Great to see you!”
“Nice to see you too, Dad.” I had to remind myself that most parents weren’t okay with being addressed by their child by their first name. Renee was the exception, not the rule.
We got my suitcase from baggage claim, which was filled mostly with books and what little of my wardrobe was suited for January in Washington thrown in as padding. Charlie got alarmingly red-faced lifting it into the trunk of his cruiser. I fought the urge to help him. Emasculating as it would be to have his teenage daughter help him with heavy-lifting, my slender frame wouldn’t account for the strength I could summon with a thought.
Revealing the existence of magic wasn’t a capital crime in the witch community, not like the zero-tolerance policy the Volturi held with the vampires. However, if someone you told went blabbing, it was up to you to ‘clean up’ the mess. If it escalated into a real threat of exposure, that’s when things got heavy. I’d made the mistake of telling my mother when I was 12; I wound up having to wipe the memories of nearly a hundred people within a week. I learned two things from that fiasco: NEVER trust Renee with a secret, and some people were just waiting for a target to unleash hatred on. The crazy Baptist widow on our block had arranged an actual mob with torches. I’d managed to explain to the police that it had been over a rumor I was a lesbian, but it was a harrowing example of how intolerant the world could still be of people who were different.
Since then, I hadn’t told a soul. I’d considered telling Charlie, but decided against it. I didn’t doubt his ability to keep his mouth shut, but his ability to handle the information. Charlie wasn’t very open to the supernatural, I knew from how he’d rolled his eyes when Renee had proposed that we go to Loch Ness next summer to hunt for the monster. If I told him I was a witch, he’d fear for my mental health. If I proved it, I feared for his.
For the record, there is a monster. It’s one of Poseidon’s pets, and he left it there as a prank. Or so Katie tells me.
Charlie and I made small talk for the first few minutes of the drive, then he settled in to listen to the radio while I admired the scenery. The Valley of the Sun was a harsh environment, and what flora and fauna did live there was tough and hardy. Here, there was so much life that it was spilling over itself. Moss and lichen clung to the trees like ladies comparing fine jewels. We passed forest so dense I was sure you couldn’t see the sky from within.
I might have lost sunbaked earth as a spell ingredient, but it looked like I’d have more fresh rainwater than I would know what to do with.
I spoke up as we reached the cheery ‘Welcome to Forks’ sign. “Can you swing by the school, please? I’d like to remind myself of the way.”
“No problem, Bells. You sure you want to start tomorrow? No one would care if you took a day to get settled in.”
“I don’t want special treatment just because I’m your kid, Chief. Anyway, I’m already two weeks behind everyone else, I need to catch up as it is.”
Charlie raised a brow. “Right. I’m sure the cutthroat curriculum of Forks High is going to threaten that 4.0 GPA of yours, Miss Honor Student.”
I grinned. One thing Charlie and Renee shared was a sarcastic sense of humor.
I took active attention as we passed the campus. I had vague memories of a quant collection of converted houses, Charlie taking me on a tour of Forks one summer. Apparently, someone had realized how sadistic it was to force kids to run through the rain from class to class. There was an ordinary school building there now, with those white signs at each doorway and everything. The school sign proudly declared it the ‘Home of the Spartans’.
I had a brief fantasy of the sports teams competing in nothing but leather loincloths to cover their oiled muscles, a coach resembling Gerard Butler screaming from the sidelines. If only.
On the way to my new home, Charlie coughed. I could practically see the discomfort rolling off him. Guess he was finally going to tell me about my ‘surprise’. “By the way, Bells, I found you a car.”
“Thanks, Dad. You didn’t have to, you know. Forks is so small I could walk.” That had been the plan, anyway. It would be easier if I could claim I took shortcuts through the forest while actually teleporting. If I had wheels, that meant people would notice if my car hadn’t been somewhere I claimed to be. Still, it was a thoughtful gesture on his part. I wouldn’t rob him of his chance to feel like a caring father.
“Nonsense. You’re seventeen, and the most responsible kid I know. You deserve to have your own car.” Charlie seemed like the sentiment was strangling him, but he pushed on. Seriously, men. “I got it off my buddy, Billy Black. You remember him, you used to play with his kids when you visited. Anyway, he’s in a wheelchair now, and he sold his truck to me cheap. I think it’ll be good for you.”
Ah, Uncle Billy. I’d always thought of him as that, but was never brave enough to say it out loud. He and Charlie were thick as thieves. I remembered tea parties with his twin daughters, and complaining about how annoying their baby brother was. I remember crying when I heard their mom died.
“Tell him thanks, for me. You didn’t snag it from one of his kids, did you? How are they, by the way?”
“They’re all good. Rachel is off at University of Washington, and Rebecca went and got married to some Hawaiian surfer. Jacob turned fifteen last week. He was really happy when I bought the car. I can’t tell if it was because it meant Billy would have to shell out for a new one, or because a pretty girl was coming to town.”
Charlie’s voice went funny on that last part. It was both amused and vexed. I tuned into his aura, curious. Ah, that was it. Charlie was so close with the Blacks, he saw Jacob as the son he never had. Part of him remembered what it was like to be young and going gaga over a girl and wished Jacob luck. I even got a flash of a daydream of me marrying Jacob so him and Billy could be brothers in name as well as spirit. At the same time, that ‘girl’ was his flesh and blood, his little princess. Part of him also wanted to take his shotgun and make it clear to Jacob that he wasn’t allowed to so much as hold my hand.
Well, Charlie had nothing to worry about. I had no luck with boys. Once Jacob saw me in person, he’d remember how dorky I was, and I’d turn back into his dad’s friend’s daughter.
We pulled up to the house my parents had bought almost before the ink on their marriage certificate was wet. The driveway was taken up by the orange monstrosity that now belonged to me. It was a real whale of a truck, a reminder of the days when things had been built to last, not replaced with next year’s shiny new model. The paint had maybe originally been cherry red, but years of rain and wind had softened it to tangerine.
“Wow. She’s beautiful. In a post-apocalyptic, grungy, nostalgic kind of way. Who’s the maker?”
Charlie scratched his mustache, eying my reaction warily. “Uh, Chevrolet.”
“Then I’ll name her Shirly. Shirly the Chevy. You don’t happen to have an old wine bottle laying around, do you? I’d like to make it official and all.”
Charlie shook his head and tried to hide his smirk. “We can christen… Shirly later. Let’s get you moved in first.”
It only took one trip, Charlie once again straining himself for the sake of his pride. He set down my suitcase to take a breather and show me where he hid the key. We walked in, and I was struck by how small it was. None of the furniture had changed, but my perspective had. That’s what happens when you don’t visit a place for years. I felt doubly certain that I had made the right decision. Renee didn’t need me anymore, but Charlie did. And maybe, just maybe, I needed to see what it was like to not be the only adult in the house for once.
I was shown to my room and told that a few shelves had been cleared in the bathroom. Charlie needn’t have worried, I wasn’t the kind of girl to clutter up the sink with products. Besides, most of my beauty care didn’t involve stuff you got from a bottle. The room was much as I remembered it, though I was pleased to note that my Disney Princess sheets had been replaced. A big white fossil of a computer sat on the desk. Maybe I could hawk it and get enough money for a phone with a data plan. I know Charlie was a TV man, but get with the times. DSL was already in history books.
“I’ll be downstairs if you need anything. Um… good to have you here, Bells.” With that, Charlie left the room. Renee would have started sorting the drawers for me. They really were different.
I turned to the old rocking chair in the corner, a patched quilt hanging on it. “Hi, Gran.”
The ghost of Helen Swan smiled at me. “Isabella, darling, it’s good to see you. You’re finally home.”
Ah, there was the small-town mindset I’d braced myself for; home was where your roots were, not necessarily where your heart was. I’d spent less than 18 months total in this house, but as far as Gran cared, this is where I was meant to be. “Where’s Pop?”
She rolled her eyes. “He’s hanging out at the graveyard again, the ol’ coot. They’re planning another fake raid on those poor Injuns again, I just know it.”
I glanced back at the door. “How has he been?”
She sighed, leaning back in her chair. It rocked the tiniest bit, but otherwise she just passed through it like it wasn’t there. Or, more accurately, like she wasn’t there. Ghosts appear like people in a movie about three-fourths through a fade-out to another scene. It was like looking at a reflection on a clear window, shallow and vanishing if you didn’t focus your eyes right.
“He never got over losing you, dear. Either of you, though I say he’s better off without that airhead of a girl, no offense. He keeps busy with work and falls asleep to beer and ball players. Can’t stand to spend a whole weekend alone in the house. He’s not sad, but he’s not really happy either. I’ve never seen him so lively since he heard you were coming back.”
I tried not to frown. I’d feared as much, that’s why I came here in the first place. “Well, I hope I can brighten things up around here. Maybe even help him get me a stepmom.”
“That’s the spirit, dear. That’s what he needs, a woman’s touch. A wife would be best, but a daughter will do. Make sure you make him my stroganoff someday, please. Even if he remembered the recipe, he’d be hopeless at it. Can’t boil water, poor boy.”
I smiled. “Sure thing, Gran. I’m going to get packed away. I’ll talk to you and Pop tomorrow, okay?”
“Certainly, dear. Take care, Isabella.”
With that, I stopped paying attention to her. She vanished into empty air, but I could still sense her presence in the chair. Ghosts were funny like that; they weren’t really there until you focused on them. They were beings of pure memory, with just enough of a psychic imprint to appear sentient. The emotions that dominated those memories decided what kind of ghost they made up. People who died peacefully like my grandparents just kind of hung around, watching over the living. Cruel, angry people that died violent deaths, on the other hand; well, those were the kind of ghosts you called the guys with proton packs for. They lingered for as long as people remembered them. Most ghosts just faded away, as the last living people who remembered them died. Some, though, achieved a kind of immortality, haunting a place and convincing each new generation someone or something was there, reinforcing the reality of their own existence.
Still, they weren’t lost souls or anything. More like ‘living’ fossils, which most people lacked the ability to even perceive. The thing in the rocking chair wasn’t really my Grandma Swan, it just thought she was. Who was I to tell her otherwise, though?
I used the top drawer for my underwear and pajamas, and threw everything else into the closet. A shopping trip was in order, maybe I could use that as an icebreaker to make some girlfriends at school. My book collection claimed one of the corners in a series of precariously balanced towers. I stuck the poor cactus I’d smuggled on the windowsill. It would get more than enough water, all I’d have to do was open the window for five minutes. I hoped the meager sunlight would be enough for it, though.
It was too early for dinner, so I decided to work on my dream journal. I hadn’t had the chance this morning, Renee wanting to soak up every last moment of Bella time before I left. I grabbed my pencil kit, got comfy on my bed, and opened to the next clear page. In the upper corner, I wrote the date I had fallen asleep and the date I’d woken up, marking when the dream had happened. Then, taking that mental step aside where I stopped thinking and just did, I sketched what I remembered from the visions of my sleep.
Katie never confirmed for me whether or not my dreams were prophetic, but I’d noticed enough coincidences that I figured it was better to be safe than sorry. I had drawn a baseball and a rose a month before Renee had met Phil. And maybe I’d already decided subconsciously, but I had drawn a pine forest the day before Renee brought up how much she missed Phil while he was away, and maybe I could work something out with the school?
Slowly, an image of two animals appeared on the clean paper. They were both on their hind legs, batting at each other. One was a cheetah, the other a wolf. I focused most of my attention on their muzzles, trying to capture the same impression I’d gotten watching them fight. They were both roaring at each other, barring teeth, but it had been oddly ambivalent. I couldn’t tell whether they’d been preparing to fight to the death or just playing in jest. Their paws reached out, claws sharp, but was it with enough strength to tear flesh or barely scratch? I got their outlines finished and switched to colors. The cheetah got almost nothing; he’d been albino, I remembered. But his spots had been strange. Not black, but a brown like bronze, almost reddish depending how the light hit them. The wolf had been russet, like the oiled oak of an antique table, and shaggy. I tried to capture that thick, tussled quality in the shading. Their eyes took longest. The sclera had been white, like a human’s; I’d found that odd. It probably meant they represented real people, but I couldn’t begin to guess who. The cheetah’s eyes had been yellow, somewhere between dandelions and honey. The wolf’s were dark brown, but they had twinkled like chocolate diamonds.
I looked over the finished work, my vague memories being replaced by the image I’d crafted in my head. They were polar opposites; cat and dog, bright and dark, lean and broad. They stood frozen, and I still couldn’t tell whether, if they could move, they would battle or embrace. I hadn’t bothered to draw genitals, but I was certain they were both male.
Before bed, I had a ritual where I looked back through my journal to see if any new meaning attached itself to any of the pictures. I was halfway through this one, and I decided to check early today. I flipped back through the pages, glancing at my dreams as recreated by my hand. A lot of pine trees, probably about my move. Sometimes the moon shined overhead, sometimes the sun. I’d drawn a clearing once, filled with beautiful wildflowers. Mostly it was just endless trees though, stretching into forever. A few more animals popped up: a smiling bear, a fox with blood-soaked jowls, a king cobra with sable scales. A couple landscapes without trees: a beach at sunset (in Mexico, as Renee had dreamily pictured as the setting of her wedding), and an Italian town. And then there were the silly ones: a pixie with her arms full of shopping bags, and a cartoonish vampire dressed in a doctor’s coat with a stethoscope, his fangs missing and leaving two gaps in his smile.
No new insights, apart from a confirmation that I seemed meant to move in with Charlie. Maybe Katie would give me a hint tonight. Or maybe there was no secret meaning and these were just the imaginings of a sleeping young woman.
It was already dark outside, but according to the clock it was barely 6:00 p.m. This was what I got for moving so far north. I went downstairs, curious to see if Charlie had any special plans for dinner.
A quick inspection of the kitchen, a mildly spirited discussion, and a half-hour later, we were eating pizza and I’d declared myself the house chef. Charlie had objected to the idea of me taking over the cooking, mostly because it meant an end to all the pizza and take-out, but also out of concern for me. I’d countered that I was used to cooking, I actually enjoyed it, I was pretty good, and I had a right to decide what I put in my mouth. Since I was determined to make my own meals, I might as well cook for him as well. I’d softened the blow by offering a weekly pizza night and a trip to the diner per month.
Much as it grated on Charlie’s conscience to take advantage of ‘child labor’, he couldn’t resist the idea of regular home-cooked meals. Even if it meant eating vegetables consistently again. I was shown to where he kept the grocery money and told to go nuts. I planned to, still trying to get over the horror of the thought of Charlie eating like a bachelor for almost as long as I’d been alive. I’d need to check on his health at some point; couldn’t have my dad dropping dead from a heart attack before he was even forty. That would just be embarrassing.
Pizza polished off, Charlie wished me a good night before grabbing a beer and plopping down in the couch that was his second bed. That was one thing he’d have to keep buying himself. Though now that I was thinking about it, I wonder if minors could homebrew. None of the equipment was illegal for me to own, and it’s not like I planned on drinking any. But if I made Charlie his own beer, I could slip some helpful charms into the potion to make his life easier. Hmm, I’d have to look into that. Might be a hard sell, convincing the police chief for moonshine to be made under his own roof.
Scant as the offerings of the kitchen were, I did find one useful thing. I grabbed the can of salt and went upstairs. I’d do the rest of the house tomorrow after buying the supplies with the groceries, but like hell I was going to sleep in an unwarded room. That would be like going to the bathroom without locking the door, it was just asking for trouble. One line of salt across the window, another over the doorframe, a few phrases in Koine, and I was set.
I had a quick shower, and then found the plug to have a nice bath. I dried my hair with a muttered word, tying it up in a bun while the tub filled. I’d need to remake all my hygiene potions, probably have to modify a couple to reflect the local energies.
I reveled in the feeling of calm and peace of the hot water, no tension in any inch of my body, free to be in my natural state. Idly, I imagined what it would be like to live in a coven, one of those hidden places in the world where witches could use magic freely. Or maybe even one of the Fae cities, where the supernatural denizens of the world lived and worked and fought and ate and coexisted like any other urban center. They even had ordinary humans there. Mostly the mates and children of some of the citizens, but also those who had proven themselves worthy of guarding the world’s biggest secret.
I was broken from my dozing by a knock on the door. “Bells? Can you hurry up? I need the toilet.”
I winced. I got up, pulling the plug to let it drain. I dried myself with a spell and slipped into my pajamas. They were the nice silk ones my mom got for my birthday; it’s amazing what the power to change your appearance at will does for your self-esteem. Within a minute, I was unlocking the door.
“Sorry, Dad. Won’t happen again. Have a good night.” With an impulsive kiss to his cheek, I walked to my room and closed the door. It was a few minutes before I heard the toilet being used; guess I’d frozen him for a little bit there.
Getting comfy in my sheets, adjusting to the new lullaby of rain pounding on the window instead of a desert breeze, I closed my eyes.
And then I felt an ancient presence gently tug on my spirit, and I woke up in Katie’s realm.
It was a field of grass, in the glorious bloom of spring. The sun shone from exactly overhead in a cloudless sky, filling the world with light and heat. To the north, the horizon was filled with mountains; to the south, the barest glimpse of the sea could be seen. I knew from past experience that no matter how far or how long I went in either direction, they never got closer. I stood in the shade of a cypress tree, the only one in sight. Three other women were near me. Next to me, in the shade, an old crone sat on the ground, as wrinkled as a raisin. She clutched a bouquet of purple blooms, which I knew to be aconite. In front of me, perched on a stool set next to an apothecary table, was another woman maybe a bit younger than my mom. She was grinding spices, picking from bunches laid on the ground beside her and packing them into a mortar and pestle, before pouring the ground powder into various cloth bags arranged on the table. Off to the side, a bit far but still in earshot, a little girl played with a dog, chasing and jumping with joyful abandon. It was always a different dog. From a distance, they looked like a family: grandmother, mother, and daughter. Up close, it was impossible to miss how their eyes were all the same acid green, their chins all jutted out in the same stubborn way, and their hair fell in the exact same ringlets.
“Hello, Katie,” I addressed them.
“Greetings, little witch,” answered Hecate, goddess of magic, the Three who were One, and my instructor.
Most witches were taught by their fairy godparent, if they had one, or the nearest witch to volunteer. On occasion, though, one of the major figures of the magical world elected to take one on as an apprentice. I had no idea what had led the same being who had taught the likes of Circe or Morgana to pay personal attention to me, but I figured I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I referred to her different forms as the Matriarch, Mother, and Maiden in my head, but all insisted on being called Katie.
“Is your father well, little witch?” asked the Mother.
“As well as can be expected,” I replied. “It will be good for him, to have me living with him.”
“For you as well, child. Always so selfless, living for others. Learn to focus on yourself once in a while! Have some fun, break a heart or two, act your age!” she scolded without real heat.
“I will, Katie,” I answered, not that I had any intention to do so. But I’d learned not to talk back a while ago. I had never really recovered from the experience of having my mouth constantly filling with manure no matter how much I gagged or retched.
The Matriarch shifted, her bones audibly creaking. “You’ll meet them soon,” she croaked.
My shoulders tensed. The Matriarch almost never spoke, but when she did it was always important. “Who, Katie?”
The crone clutched her bouquet closer to her chest, not even looking at me. “Follow your heart, pretty bird. No matter where it leads.” With that, she started to snore.
I turned to the Mother. “What do you mean, Katie?”
She smirked at me. “That would be telling. Now go work on your shape-shifting. It still takes you almost a minute to change to another form! If you aren’t going from a mouse to a drake in a blink by Imbolc, I’ll hex you for a week.”
I grimaced. Katie believed that the satisfaction of a job well done was enough of a carrot, and made liberal use of threats of the stick to motivate. It was certainly effective, but not exactly pleasant.
Walking away to get some space, I reached inside for the animal. I let it take over with a rush of fire up my spine, feeling like I was shaking off a thick, awkward coat to stand free.
My natural form was, in what I was still convinced was some kind of cosmic joke at my expense, a swan. Once I got over it, I felt it described me very well: awkward on land, but smoothly graceful on water or air. I quickly shifted into my favorite form, a Bengal tiger. I’d taken this form so often it only took a few seconds of focus. But, according to Katie, I had until Groundhog Day to make even the most unfamiliar form effortlessly quick. The only way to do that was the same way to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. As I cycled through the animal kingdom, I made a mental note to schedule some shifting in my real body. I got all the experience from these not-dreams in Katie’s realm as if I were actually here, but there was still something about doing magic awake in the real world that made it stick.
When I’d been working long enough that I felt I should be sweating, even though some of the animals I was transforming into didn’t have glands, the Mother called out. “Enough. You’ll be back on Aphrodite’s day. Don’t embarrass yourself at your new school.”
Guess I wouldn’t be going to any parties Friday night.
Before I woke up, I realized that the Maiden was singing. The child’s voice wasn’t forming any words, just vocalizing the notes. And I was 99% sure that it was Wagner’s Bridal Chorus.
I sat up explosively in bed, only to overbalance and fall on my face, thankfully on the soft comforter and not the floor. I was aware of an annoying beeping from my watch, and I muted it absently, still reeling from the revelations from just before I woke.
Katie NEVER did anything by accident. Anything she told me was intentional and meant to guide me; it was up to me to be able to hear and comprehend it.
The Mother told me to focus on myself and go ‘break a heart or two’.
The Matriarch had said I would meet ‘them’ and I should ‘follow my heart’.
The Maiden had been singing ‘Here Comes the Bride’.
Feeling like my eyes were compass needles drawn inexorably toward true north, I turned to look at my dream journal. It was still open to the cheetah and wolf.
Blame it on female intuition, blame it on my love for Victorian literature, blame it on my personal experience with how much the gods loved mischief. But I just KNEW what that drawing represented, however outlandish it seemed to me.
I hung my head and rubbed my temples. “No. No, no, no, no, no. This is not happening to me. Give me a Neo-Nazi warlock I’m destined to vanquish. Give me an abused kid fated to become a world leader to nurture. Give me ANYTHING but a high school love triangle!”
I could have sworn I heard a chuckle. And I would bet everything I owned it hadn’t been my Gran.
I drove into Forks High School’s parking lot, Shirly roaring like a lion. She was a loud one, and I wasn’t even tempted to mute her with a spell. It was part of her charm; her obnoxious volume and puttering exhaust gave her character.
I pulled into an open spot in the student section of the lot. I had to go to the office before classes, so I had left early. Not that there was much to do but munch cereal and watch Charlie make coffee. Except perhaps waste energy cursing my fate.
I was officially a damsel. At some point in the near future, I would attract the attention of two different men. And I would, presumably, be left with the unenviable task of picking which one’s heart got shattered. It was the plot of half my favorite books, but the conflict didn’t seem so delicious when I was set to be in the middle of it.
I could always take the easy way out and pick neither of them, staying single. But I got the sense that that wouldn’t be a feasible option. If my life really had become some romantic drama, then odds were that I could fall for both of them, and fate would keep throwing us into each other’s paths until that happened. And it’s not like I was opposed to meeting a guy that could sweep me off my feet, more that there was almost no way to avoid someone getting hurt before everything was done.
Well, no way that fit within societal norms. Triads were reserved for the pages of niche romance novels, not real life.
I shook my head and stepped out of the car. School first, personal life second. I’d lived by that most of my life, no reason to stop now.
I was walking across the lot when my supernatural radar gave a ping. I paused and turned to look at one of the parked cars. It stood out, a shiny Volvo, brand-new while most of its neighbors were at least a decade out of date. But it wasn’t the glinting chrome and fancy tires that drew my attention; it was the distinctly non-human auras all but radiating from it. Whoever owned this car, it was well-loved and well-used. I’d gotten weaker imprints off suburban minivans back in Phoenix.
Now what in Hades were multiple vampires doing at Forks High School?
I remembered the albino cheetah.
Huh. So, one of the characters in this little plot was an unaging hunk of living diamond. Emphasis on the ‘hunk’, I had yet to hear of a vampire that couldn’t make a model self-conscious.
Well, this put a whole new spin on the term ‘necking’, didn’t it?
I sighed and continued to the office. As intriguing as the mystery of my potential vampire boyfriend and his coven’s presence in this sleepy town was, I still had school things to handle.
The dry, drab room for administrators was currently occupied by one lone woman, dressed in a t-shirt. Well, I could pass off my blouse and cardigan as dressing to impress. She looked up at me through her glasses. “Can I help you?”
“Bella Swan, the new student.” I had to hide a flinch at her surge of interest in reaction. Crows, I was all but a local celebrity, wasn’t I? Daughter of the beloved chief, finally back to her roots after being hidden away by his flighty ex-wife. I was a living, breathing soap opera character, at least as far as this one was concerned.
Before I left, armed with schedules and maps and forms she’d foisted on me, I asked her “Do you know anything about the owner of the Volvo outside? I… want to ask about the paint job.” Yeah, right. What I really wanted was to skim her thoughts when I brought up the unknown vampires.
“Oh, that would be the Cullens, Dr. Cullen’s foster children. I believe you have Biology with Edward, the youngest. You can ask him. And of course, you’ll see them at lunch.” Because this school was tiny enough to only have one lunch period. I nodded politely and filed away what I could glean from her thoughts. Five vampires in this school (which she had more than a few ‘inappropriate’ fantasies about), two more in town. A coven of seven, three mated pairs and a loner. Guess which one I happened to share a class with?
I checked my schedule. Well, Biology was right after lunch. I could get a read on them all in the cafeteria, assuming they showed up. Though why they even bothered with the charade of being high school students, I couldn’t fathom. What was up with that, moving in with humans and acting their apparent age? It didn’t fit with what I knew of vampires, which admittedly was all academic. I hadn’t actually met one, just covered them with Katie. The best spells to kill one and the alchemical properties of their venom wasn’t likely to help in an introduction.
I did my best to shove all thoughts of blood drinking persons from my mind as I made it through the day’s lessons. This proved surprisingly easy, as I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of attention sent my way. From English first thing all the way to Spanish before lunch, I was ogled. There was really no better way to put it. Teachers gaped when they heard my name, my peers turned in their seats to stare at me rather than the board, and I was approached and talked to like I was a Hollywood actress.
Gods above, these people were sheltered. A new face should NOT be this interesting.
I trailed behind a rather talkative, short girl by the name of Jessica to lunch. On the surface she seemed perfectly friendly and helpful as she inundated me with the who’s who of Forks High. But luckily my senses went well beyond that. She was just using me, increasing her own popularity by piggybacking off mine, a fact that caused her no small amount of jealousy. I’d met her type before. Not evil so much as small; her world extended no further than the end of her nose.
Jessica sat me down and introduced me to all of her ‘friends’, who seemed awed at her courage in talking to me. The only decent person there was a sweet girl named Angela, who had been childhood friends with Jessica before she succumbed to the bitch virus and was sort of a hanger-on in her social crowd. I smiled and nodded and tried to find the courage to eat my apple when it felt like I was being judged by an Olympic panel for every twitch I made.
My eyes wandered the mass of teenage youth before alighting on a group that could not possibly have been more out of place. For one, they were all pale as corpses, a shade of white that human skin just can’t achieve unless exsanguinated or caked in powder. For another, they were posed like statues, each consumed in some solitary stare off into the distance, rather than looking at me or chatting with each other as the rest of the student body were. And finally, they were beautiful in a way that nature had never intended, flawless and symmetrical and balanced beyond the scope of any human face. Succubae got into your head, the Fae were so full of magic their physical forms were surreal, but no species could beat out vampires for sheer, sharp physical perfection.
Ah, the Cullens, I presume.
Here was my chance. Atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed. I blocked out the chatter of the room around me and focused entirely on the five vampires resting around a lunch table.
The influx of knowing almost knocked me over.
The big one, Emmett McCarty, was like a tide pool. Deep and full of life, but the water was crystal clear. He was a simple man. He liked to test his strength. He liked to spend time with his woman. He liked games and jokes. As far as he was concerned, life was good and anytime it wasn’t he could make it better easily. A content little boy in the body of an Olympic wrestler.
Rosalie Lilian Hale made me sad. Regret and self-hatred rolled off her in waves. I saw that her past was dark and painful, but she missed it because at least she was human. She masked the pain with vanity, comforting herself with her beauty and the power it had. I had a glimpse, clear as day, of her and Emmett in rocking chairs, old and gray and wrinkled, bouncing children on their knees. Her deepest wish, and one she’d never see fulfilled.
Jasper Whitlock was like an open wound. I saw all the scars, and how he got them. I saw him endure decades of blood and death and savagery, losing himself a little more with every kill. He had found a new way, guided by his love, but it was a constant struggle not to regress back into the monster he’d once been. His aura seemed to extend past himself and settle around him like a mist. An empath.
Edward Anthony Masen, Jr. was confusing. He was miserable, and he was happy with that. The black of self-loathing surrounded him like a cloak, and he clung to it. He took… I wouldn’t say pride, but the certainty that he was a monster was a large part of his identity. I saw various shallow interests in the world around him, and one strong bond to his ‘father’, but it was hollow. He wasn’t ready to die, but he wasn’t really living either. He was going through the motions, watching the world pass by out of habit instead of any real interest. His mind was like a one-way mirror; I could see the ripples and streams of thought in the room going in instead of flowing around him, but his own stayed inside. Passive telepath.
Mary ‘Alice’ Brandon was like a blob of mercury. Her aura was constantly shifting and changing, always moving, a perpetual motion machine. She was like lightning in a bottle, full of energy and just waiting to burst at the slightest whim. There was surprisingly little ‘gunk’ clinging to her. See, everyone has doubts, regrets, dissatisfaction, and a bunch of other negative energies that are part of the price of living. But she barely had any. Compared to the sludge I’d seen on Edward, she was clean as a whistle. She wasn’t naïve or innocent, per se, so much as serene and completely content with her life. Her eyes glowed with ethereal light, and I could see reflections of the threads of Fate in them. Huh, prescient. That was a formidable talent.
All this, I learned in a few seconds. My brain rushed and ached to assimilate information as it flowed in from an otherworldly source. Yet the knowledge I picked up on them as individuals paled in comparison to what I learned of their bonds.
They were a family. Through and through. United in their journeys through life, bound together by love and affection and respect. I could state with certainty that they would die for each other. In many ways, still the youths they appeared outwardly to be, guided by a father and mother that cherished and taught them.
It was humbling and awe-inspiring, the relationships of the Cullen Coven.
I withdrew my attentions, dealing with a new headache to go with my new perspective.
I’d just gotten a cheat sheet on my potential in-laws. And I was amazed to find I didn’t mind the prospect of forever with them. They were good people. Not without troubles, or guilt, but at the end of the day, they tried to do what was right.
It almost brought a tear to my eye.
“You’re staring at the Cullens,” Jessica spoke up, stating the obvious and drawing the group’s focus back to me, if it had ever left.
Edward, the lithe redhead, looked up. I double-checked the spells woven into my shield bracelet. I was pretty sure I was immune to vampire gifts, full stop, but it didn’t hurt to be sure. Like hell was I going to let him get a sneak peek at my thoughts. He looked back down just as quick, as if it had just been a reflex. I’d bet money Jessica’s thoughts were as loud as her voice. She must have got his attention.
I shrugged. “They’re worth staring at. Who are they, again?”
“Dr. and Mrs. Cullens foster kids. They moved down here from Alaska, like, a few years ago,” Jessica offered.
“They… kind of keep to themselves,” Angela spoke up, genuinely trying to help the new girl. She got points in my book.
“Yeah, because they’re all, like, together. Like, together together,” Jessica continued, relishing in the juiciness of this particular bit of gossip. “The blond girl, Rosalie, she’s with the big dude Emmett. They’re, like, a thing. I’m not even sure that’s legal!”
“Jess, they’re not actually related,” Angela protested gently.
“I know, but they live together. It’s weird!” Jessica declared. I had to admit, if you believed the lie, it was fairly scandalous. Pseudo-incest in quaint Forks? Tongues must have been wagging for years. “Anyway, the little dark-haired girl, Alice, she’s really weird. And she’s with Jasper, the blond guy who looks like he’s in pain.”
No kidding. I wonder if they’d worked out that Jasper could pick up the others’ thirst through his gift.
“Dr. Cullen is like this, foster dad/matchmaker,” Jessica summarized.
“Maybe he’ll adopt me,” threw in a blond girl at the table. Lauren, I think her name was, and she was even more petty and self-absorbed than Jessica. She’d have to be, to think she could measure up against vampire beauty.
“And the last boy?” I asked, wondering on others’ take on my possible husband. He was looking over at us again, this time with a strange sort of frustration. Was he noticing my lack of thought already? Either I’d underestimated vampire perception or one of the others asked him to look into me.
Jessica huffed. “That’s Edward Cullen. Totally gorgeous, obviously. But apparently, nobody here is good enough for him. Like I care, you know? Seriously, don’t waste your time.”
Lunch ended soon afterwards, all the Cullens getting up a few minutes before the bell in synch and walking out of the cafeteria in a dazzling display of grace. I was once again amazed at the power of human ignorance and denial. How anyone could believe they were human if stuff like that was a daily occurrence was beyond me. I mean it, Rosalie walking a line that straight in six-inch stiletto heels was just plain unnatural.
I made it over to Mr. Banner’s classroom, pretty sure I’d find one of the other students more interesting than his lecture. Damn Katie to Tartarus, but she knew me well. I found myself powerless to contain my interest in the brooding immortal teenager. What made him tick? What was the reason for the darkness in his eyes? Here’s hoping he wasn’t quite as bad as Heathcliff, but still. He was pretty much copy-and-pasted out of the Victorian dramas that were my bread and butter.
I walked in and, lo and behold, there was only one seat open. Three guesses where… and the first two don’t count. This was ridiculous.
I sat down next to him, again checking on my shield bracelet. Mental defenses? Check. Obfuscation of scent? Check. I was as safe as it was possible to be sitting next to a finely-honed killing machine.
“Hello. You must be Isabella Swan,” he said. He was looking at me with a kind of unmet expectation, an exasperated curiosity. My lack of mental noise or distinctive scent must really be throwing him off. He’d repeated almost word for word the standard greeting I’d gotten from other Forkians. I’d been hoping for something more original.
“Just Bella, please.” I pulled out my notebook and decided to focus on the blackboard. I’d make it at least one day before I succumbed to temptation, for my own peace of mind if nothing else. Edward seemed content with silence as well, and we spent the whole class period merely taking notes. I found it funny that he was probably expending more energy to write at a human pace than to absorb the facts about flatworms.
I sat through a gym period, which was enough to make the enchanting of my uniform top priority for me, and then school finally ended. One day down, a couple hundred to go. I went over to Shirly, and obnoxiously drove over to the supermarket, determinedly not looking at the Cullens. I got enough to feed me and Charlie for a week and had enough left over to pick up all the ingredients on my ‘non-food’ list.
The afternoon passed in a blur of rituals, as I warded the house, replaced my lost potion stock, and enchanted a pen and pencil to do my homework for me. Don’t look at me like that, like you wouldn’t. That done, I had just enough time to make dinner before Charlie walked in the door.
“Bells? What smells so good?” he called, taking off his gun belt. As far as I knew, he’d never fired it except at the shooting range.
“Steak and potatoes. And if you don’t at least try the asparagus, I’ll never forgive you.”
“Well, when you put it like that…”
We ate in peace, and the meal was quite yummy if I do say so myself. At around the halfway mark, I caved and asked Charlie. “So, what do you know about the Cullens?”
Charlie paused mid-chew. “Why the interest?” he asked, mouth full. I’d work on that later.
I shrugged, going for nonchalance. “Curious about the only other foreigners in school, I guess.”
Charlie rolled his eyes. “They moved here from Denali two years ago. One of the luckiest breaks this town ever had, if you ask me. Dr. Cullen could be working at any hospital in the world, and he settled on ours. I was a bit wary of all those teenagers, but I haven’t heard a peep out of any of them. Straight A’s, never act out; more than I can say for some of the kids born and raised here.”
Wow, a whole paragraph. Charlie really must have a high opinion of them. “I see.” I changed the topic. “So, why don’t we invite the Blacks up here for dinner? I’d like to pay back Billy my own way for Shirly since you went and bought her for me. And I haven’t seen Jake in a while.”
Charlie’s eyes lit up. “That sounds great! I’ll call them up, see if they’re up for this weekend.” His eyes narrowed a bit. Hope Billy’s gotten over his dumb superstitious prejudice
I heard, like an echo without an origin point.
More evidence the Quileutes weren’t run-of-the-mill natives. Seems Uncle Billy might just know the truth about the Cullens. I was intrigued.
I washed the dishes as Charlie migrated to the living room. That done, I went up to my room and checked on my homework. Satisfied, I laid down on my bed. Then, before I could second or third-guess myself, I slipped myself out of my body.
Time to greet the neighbors. If this had to happen, it was going to be on my terms.
I flew, intangible, through the night sky, following the trail of the Cullens’ auras, which I was much more sensitive to in this form. I finally stopped and couldn’t help but stare. They had a mansion. An honest-to-gods mansion smack dab in the middle of the woods. Gorgeously restored 19th Century, I believe, with a back wall replaced entirely with glass. I couldn’t help but notice the inch-thick iron sheets hidden in all the window frames.
The house was like a metaphor for vampires. Ancient antiquity brought into the modern era, white, beautiful, and much tougher than it looked.
I settled down in front of their door, making sure everyone was home. I sensed five familiar presences and two of a similar sort. All accounted for. I licked my lips and then, since I couldn’t knock on the door, I called out “Hello!”
There was no response, though I sensed all movement inside stop.
I waited a few seconds, which were good as minutes to vampires, and then tried again. “I can explain the lack of heartbeat and scent. Can someone please open the door?”
Nothing for a while, and then there was a lightning-fast shift in one of the auras as he went from a second-floor room to right behind the door. It opened, and I got my first glimpse of Carlisle Cullen.
He glowed like the sun. The amount of positivity, righteousness, and sheer saintly goodness that oozed out of his every pore nearly blinded me. Past the metaphysical, I saw he looked like one of Phidias’ sculptures come to life. Good thing he was married, because the nurses would be all over him otherwise.
“Hello?” He asked, looking at my see-through body with curiosity.
“Hello, Dr. Cullen. I’m Bella Swan, Chief Swan’s daughter. I thought I should introduce myself to the other members of the local supernatural community. May I come in?”
“… Yes. Yes, of course. Please do.” He opened the door wide, and I slipped past him inside. The threshold parted to let me through, as I had the blessing of the homeowner.
The interior was gorgeous, of course, open and airy. The entire Cullen clan was arranged around the living room, staring at me with looks ranging from hostility to disbelief. I noted a caramel-haired, soft beauty I assumed to be Mrs. Cullen.
“Hi, everyone. Forgive for not coming in person, but I don’t want my dad to think I snuck out.” I shifted my feet, even though I didn’t have any muscles in this form. “You have a lovely home,” I offered, hoping they’d help me out a little.
“Thank you,” Dr. Cullen said, walking around to be at his wife’s side. Esme, that was her name. He never took his eyes off me. “Pardon me, but how exactly are you here?”
I shrugged. “Depends how you see things. A scientist would call this holographic telepresence. A comic book nerd would call it astral projection. I personally refer to it as a spiritwalk. The gist of it is, my body is back at my house, but I still get to be here and talk to you guys.”
“Cool,” Emmett said. He got a smack on the head from Rosalie, the sound like a steel mallet hitting a vault door. He turned hurt puppy-dog eyes on his mate, but Rosalie kept her attention on me. The look in her eyes made me uncomfortable, like she was planning where to hide my dead body.
“Anyway, as I said, I felt like I should meet you officially. As a fellow not-exactly-human, I thought it best that we come to terms about our cohabitation. I don’t have a problem with you, and hopefully you don’t have a problem with me, but if you do we should iron things out as soon as possible.”
Edward looked at me like I was a ghost, which I actually resembled a bit at the moment. “What do you mean, not-exactly-human?” he asked, probably voicing what they all were thinking.
I took a needless breath. “Alright. You, vampires. Me, witch. We on the same page, now?”
Rosalie scoffed. “Witches don’t exist.”
I raised a brow at her. “Neither do Gucci-wearing, bloodsucking, sparkly monsters of the night, yet here we both are,” I snarked on reflex. I heard at least one chuckle. I backpedaled as Rosalie actually snarled. “If the word ‘witch’ offends you for some reason, think of me as psychic. Like how I’m here, it’s all semantics. I perceive and can affect the world around me in ways other people can’t. I call it magic, because that’s what I was taught it was, and the word for a female magic-user is ‘witch’, which is what I identify as.” I paused. “Did I just use two homophones back to back. I hate when that happens, sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Esme spoke up, a glorious smile lighting up her face. Wow. Carlisle was a lucky man. “This is terribly exciting. Forgive us, Bella, but we’ve never met a witch before. I’m sorry if we offend you in our ignorance. Can I get you anything? A seat, a drink?” She sent a look at Jasper, whom vacated a loveseat in a fraction of a second. He took post behind Alice’s shoulder, who looked fascinated with me.
“No, I’m okay. I don’t really have muscles or anything in this form. Thank you, though.” I coughed. “So… how’s this going to work? I keep your secret, you keep mine?”
“Naturally,” Carlisle said. “You trusted us with your secret and you made no move to disclose ours today, though you clearly knew it. It's only fair that we look out for each other."
Rosalie actually stomped her foot, and Jasper was eyeing me in a way that made me nervous. I slipped steel into my spine and addressed the blonds in the room. “Thank you, Carlisle. I feel compelled to warn you, though, that it would be very unwise to attack me. I may look human, but I can make force fields and fire with just a thought. You try to hurt me or anyone I care about, your ashes will be scattered to the wind.”
A frown marred the patriarch’s brow as the diva scoffed. “Are you seriously threatening us?” she all but growled.
“Not threatening. Giving advice for your continued survival.” I focused, and the magazine on the table before her went up in witchfire. There was nothing but a black scorch mark in seconds.
They all stared at it, a frozen kind of horror in their expressions. I felt like a schmuck, but I needed to hammer this point home. You mess with Bella, you get zapped. I couldn’t have them trying to kill me in a misguided attempt to protect their privacy. “I won’t start a fight, but I will finish one. Are we clear?”
“… Yes, Bella.” Dr. Cullen said. He seemed much more reserved now.
“Good. Sorry about the table, Mrs. Cullen.” I sheepishly sent a cleaning spell at the black burn. It cleared up like new.
“No problem, Bella. And please, call me Esme.” She smiled cherubically again. “I assure you, I speak for my whole family when I say you have nothing to fear from us. None of us would dream of endangering you or your father. We know better than to react with violence.” There was a hard note to that last part, and I think I saw the six others straighten their posture a bit.
Huh. Maybe it wasn’t Carlisle that really ran things around here.
“I’m glad to hear it.” I was rapidly losing my nerve. Better leave before they saw the cowardly behind the lion. “I’ll see most of you at school. If you need anything, feel free to ask. Good-bye.”
I woke up back in Charlie’s house, a cold sweat soaking into my sheets.
Well, here’s hoping I wasn’t murdered tomorrow.
I had barely closed Shirley’s door the next day when I was assaulted by a vampire. Well, maybe ‘assaulted’ was too strong a word, but it sure felt like it.
“Hi, Bella!” Alice chirped, wrapping me in her stone-cold arms. I awkwardly held my arms up, looking to Jasper behind her. He smirked at me, as if this were only the beginning and he was enjoying the show. “I’m Alice, and we’re going to be best friends!”
“Um… if you say so?” I said. I summoned strength and gently unwrapped her from around me, setting her down in front of me as I lifted her the tiniest bit to get her off.
She blinked, then seemed thrilled, like a kid who just went on a rollercoaster. “Wow, that was interesting. Usually only Emmett can do that. Magic must be wonderful!”
“Could you keep it down? Literally everyone is staring.” And it was true. One of the aloof Cullens getting all touchy-feely with New Girl Swan had every kid in the parking lot looking our way.
“I’m sorry. I’m not good at restraining myself, except when it comes to diet, of course. I just already know we’re going to get along fabulously and I apologize if I’m a bit forward but I’m just so impatient for you to realize it and we can get to where I see us,” she said in one breath.
I eyed my shield bracelet as if it had betrayed me. “So, you can ‘see’ me?”
“Not directly. When I look for you, there’s nothing. But you show up in my visions for other people. I just looked at my future and saw us arm-in-arm and now I’m just so excited! That’s a lovely bracelet. Is that what’s blocking our gifts? Jasper’s nervous around you, since he can’t read you. Same thing with Edward. But I told them we’re going to be friends and they should trust me trusting you, and they’ll listen to me eventually.”
I blinked. “Is it possible for vampires to do cocaine?”
Jasper snorted. “Oh, Emmett’s going to love her.”
“No, drugs don’t work on us any more than food. If we drink the blood of someone with it in their system, we get sick for a few hours. This is just my natural energy!” She smiled and looked so adorable I half expected anime stars to twinkle around her head.
I had a random thought. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you like to shop.”
“I don’t like shopping. I love it. I live to shop and shop to live,” Alice said with that effervescent grin on her face.
Looks like I’d found the pixie I’d dreamed about. She was like Tinker Bell dressed up as a vampire for Halloween.
“Right. Well, nice talking to you Alice. I’ve got to get to class.”
“Oh. Well, okay. But please come have lunch with us! We all have so many questions. You don’t even have to buy anything, you can eat off our trays. Whaddya say?”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “You’re very used to getting your way, aren’t you?”
I sighed. “Fine. I’ll have lunch with you guys. Will Rosalie behave?”
“Oh, don’t worry. She’s still cowed over the fact you set Italian Vogue alight from miles away. And in the words of Emmett, that was totally wicked, by the way. I’ll let you get to class. Bye!” With that, she danced in Jasper’s arms and flitted away towards the school building.
Well… that was unexpected.
I was accosted by Jessica as soon as I stepped into Trigonometry. “Is it true? Are you hanging out with Alice Cullen?”
I shrugged. “Apparently. She walked up to me, declared us besties, and invited me to sit with her at lunch. I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to say no.”
“I told you she was weird,” Jessica offered. “But she’s never done anything like this before. Like, I don’t think she’s talked to anyone except teachers and her family all year. What makes you so special?” She did not do a good job of masking her jealousy.
“Beats me.” Thankfully, class began and effectively shut Jessica up.
Aware that the majority of the student body was watching me like a hawk, I walked straight to the Cullen’s lunch table and sat next to Alice. “Hello, everyone,” I said. Some might find it concerning I was more concerned about whether my tablemates approved of me than the fact they tore open throats for sustenance.
“Hello,” said Edward, outright staring at me like I was a Rubik’s cube he was trying to solve.
“Hey, it’s Sabrina, the teenage witch,” Emmett announced, mouth wide in a mischievous grin.
I raised a brow. “Really, Nosferatu? You want to start with dumb pop culture nicknames right out the gate?”
“Come on, it’s not every day you meet one of the Charmed Ones,” he quipped right back.
“Very well. I will hereby refer to you all as the Drac Pack. Please file all complaints with Emmett.”
“That the best you got?” he challenged, even as Jasper pinched his brow and Edward grimaced. Rosalie remained silent, eyeing me in the cautiously neutral way you would a friend’s pet snake.
Alice alone seemed actually pleased to see me. “Welcome, Bella! Here, I got your favorites.” She slid the tray in front of her over to me, and I saw it had the most appetizing things I found on the menu.
“You’re good. I might as well drop my precog ward, it doesn’t seem to work with you,” I commented, opening up the lemonade bottle and taking a sip.
“Really? Please do! It’s odd, having to look for you when I can’t find you. Like one of those picture puzzles where you have to find the mime.” She paused. “Actually, wait until we’re alone. Edward won’t react well to what I’ll see.”
I considered the problem and found a solution. I mentally touched the protective layers of magic surrounding me and expanded them to cover her. “How about this instead?”
Edward and Jasper visibly flinched. “What did you do?” the former gasped as the latter whispered “Darlin’?” in a surprisingly small voice.
Alice gazed off into the distance with glassy eyes for a full ten seconds. Then she came back to herself and squealed. “Oh, this is perfect! It’s like stepping under your umbrella. Edward can’t read me through the wards, but I got past your foresight protection. This is going to be so fun. We can finally have a fair game of chess!” She kissed my cheek, which almost derailed my concentration. “Forget best friends. You and I will be good as sisters, mark my words!”
Was that a hint? Had she seen my potential future with Edward. Damn, now I was curious.
“Bella, whatever you did, could you stop? I need to feel my wife. I need to.” Jasper was pleading as much as his pride would allow.
I eyed Edward, who looked at me almost accusingly. For some reason, I really wanted to twist his nose or poke him in the eye some way. How dare he look at me like that. “I got a better idea.” I focused, and my wards spread to everyone at the table except Edward. “There. You all have privacy for the first time since meeting Edward.”
Edward gaped like a fish.
“Wait, seriously?” Emmett visibly concentrated, then lit up like a Christmas tree when Edward showed no reaction. “Oh, this is sweet! Bells, you are my new favorite person.”
“What about me?” Rosalie harrumphed, and be still my heart she was actually threatened. How much had I unsettled her with my book burning trick?
Emmett hunched over. “Oh, baby, of course I meant second-favorite! You know you’re my one and only.” He gave her a huge smooch, which quickly escalated to the most X-rated kiss I’d ever seen. When he pulled back, I saw onlookers in the background blushing, but Rosalie had content look like a cat handfed a salmon.
I turned to Jasper. “Are they always like this?”
“Worse,” he said, nuzzling into his mate’s shoulder, while paying much more respect to public boundaries than his brother had.
Alice looked ready to cackle. “Relax, Edward. She can’t keep it up over distances. You’ll be back to casually invading our minds once we get home.”
Emmett’s head snapped to me. “Samantha, I will pay you $100 an hour to follow us around and keep Eddie out of our heads.”
“My name is Bella. Just for that, my answer’s no,” I said, trying not to reveal how seriously tempted I was by such easy money. “But hey, instead of paying me to follow you around with my umbrella as Alice put it, why not pay me to make your own?”
“Come again?” Edward asked, looking at me like he couldn’t decide whether I resembled Godzilla or Cthulhu more.
I shrugged. “Compensate me for materials, and I can make you guys charms to block out vampire gifts. Nothing fancy, small things like rings or necklaces, things you can wear. Though the ritual ingredients can get pretty… exotic. And expensive.”
“You’re just… selling us magic amulets?” Rosalie asked.
“Well, yeah. I have the supply, you have the demand. Basic economics.” I wrinkled my nose. “Plus, it could keep me in practice. I haven’t had a chance to practice my craft for anything but my own needs… ever, really. I’m not ashamed to make some cash making some doodads for you guys. It’s not like I could do this kind of thing for the normies.”
“There weren’t other… weirdos in Phoenix?” Alice asked me.
“None that I could help out. Most ‘weirdos’ in town were either vampires and other predators much less civilized than you guys or Fae and offering to help a Fae with magic is like selling coal dust to a miner. So, yeah, you guys are the first I can really feel comfortable helping out with my gifts.”
“What else can my magic charm do?” Emmett asked.
“Wait, other predators?” Jasper questioned.
“Fairies?!” Alice cried with all the joy of a little girl at Disneyland.
The school bell rang.
“Sorry, kids. Class had ended. We’ll catch up tomorrow. Edward, want to walk me to class? I actually might need an escort, so I don’t get mobbed by other kids.” I picked up the tray I had grazed from and made for the trash cans, withdrawing my wards as I did to save energy. No need to let them know how taxing my little trick had actually been.
Edward was at my side like a proper gentleman the whole time, though I could tell he was miles away. I wonder what had overloaded him more, my casual blocking of his talent or my topics of conversation. I pitched my voice low enough that I myself could barely hear it but should be crystal clear to his ears. “I’m going to guess by your family’s… exuberance that you aren’t in touch with the greater supernatural community. Did you guys think vampires were the only things to go bump in the night?”
He held the door for me, though I beat him to my seat. “No, we were aware of Children of the Moon, and Carlisle remembers tales and rumors from when he was younger. But the way you put it, it’s much bigger than any of us expected.”
“Well, to be fair, I have a good teacher.”
“Who?” Edward asked, perfectly ignoring the teacher while appearing to do anything but.
“She’s more of a spirit guide. She visits me in my dreams, gives me lessons on witchcraft and other species. I’m afraid to tell you her name in case you freak out.”
“I assure you, my composure can handle it.”
“Says the guy who was catching flies the moment I extended my mind protections beyond myself.”
I suppressed a giggle. Teasing Edward was abnormally satisfying. “Alright, I’ll give you a hint. Most of my spells are in Koine, and she prefers to be called Katie.”
Of course, it took him only a second to figure it out. Modern supercomputers have nothing on vampire neurons. “Hekate? Greek goddess of magic?” His whisper was oddly choked.
“Lowercase ‘g’, if it helps you wrap your mind around it.”
“Well… no wonder you’re so proficient, with a teacher of that caliber.”
“I was a good student, too,” I protested.
“Forgive me, I don’t mean to offend. I simply find every word that comes out of your mouth challenges the very underpinnings of my worldview.”
“Well, let’s play 20 questions, let you get what’s really bugging you out of the way.”
“Miss Swan, Mister Cullen, do you have something to share with the rest of the class?” the teacher called.
“No, Mr. Banner,” Edward chimed, yet the moment the man looked away he whispered, “Later.”
Gym was tolerable. It was really my enchanted clothing doing all the work, I was just along for the ride. I played a decent game of volleyball, then changed and made it for Shirly before anyone could talk to me. I drove home and had barely closed the door when the phone began to ring.
I picked up. “Swan residence.”
“Hi, Bella! Can you come over to our house again?” Alice asked, the crappy connection somehow not interfering with the silver-bell quality of her voice.
“Alice, please. I get that I’m the most interesting thing to come into your lives for a while but give me some space.”
“Well, how about if we come over to your house instead?”
“I think my dad might mind if I inflict half-a-dozen teenagers on him at once.”
“Then just me? Please? Pretty please with AB- on top?”
I couldn’t help a weary chuckle. “I’m going to say yes, and you’re going to knock on my door the second I hang up, aren’t you?”
A knock on the door was my answer.
“Thought so,” I muttered. I was beginning to grasp a crucial piece of information: there’s no stopping Alice.